Outputs vs. Outcomes

14 Jan

“Understanding the difference between outcomes and outputs is important.

Outputs relate to what we do. Outcomes refer to what difference is there?

Outputs include:

  • Facilitating workshops
  • Delivering training
  • Developing products, curriculum and resources
  • Conducting assessments

In the past we’ve tended to focus on outputs. We are anxious to tell others what it is we do, the services we provide, how we are unique and who we serve. We’ve done a good job of describing and counting out activities and the number of people who came to them.

Now, however, we are being asked what difference does it make? This is a question about outcomes”.

The above text comes from a document that is on display in my work area (along with our Team Charter). I agree with what it’s saying but unfortunately our work unit, myself included, didn’t take much notice of it (along with the Team Charter). The report that went to our Director to summarise our activities for 2013 was full of x participants attended this course, y participants attended that course and so on.

Outputs are easy to quantify. While our team did all of the above things what difference did it make?

What value did we add to the organisation?

Outcomes are about impact. Outcomes are harder to determine. But just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make them real. I’m not a big resolution person but given that it’s early 2014, I’d like to put more focus on the outcome this year and beyond, on making a real difference.

Does your Learning and Development department talk about and share their outcomes? I’d love to hear your examples, please share below.

Make a difference


Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Learning and Development


Tags: , , , , , ,

6 responses to “Outputs vs. Outcomes

  1. tanyalau

    January 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Hey Matt, happy 2014! Nice post.
    A big part of this problem is related to evaluation – and the fact that we often don’t evaluate the right things (i.e. business and performance outcomes as opposed to just learner reaction). This is very closely related to a previous post you wrote on measuring performance outcomes – as often the reason why we focus on outputs is because we’re designing for outputs and not outcomes at the outset.
    One of the teams in our OD dept are developing a framework and tools for long term evaluation of performance outcomes and change. It’s a bit of an experiment (being piloted with a leadership program) and I’ll likely adapt some of what they’re doing to elearning evaluation. I’m going to start with incorporating some performance-based questions in the level 1 eval (cf Will Thalheimer which I linked to in your aforementioned post and possibly another eval 3 or 6 months later. Plus – and this is a key thing – working with the business at the outset (design phase) to determine actual tangible business measures – then following up with them 6 or 12 months later on those measures. Ultimately I think developing closer relationships with the businesses you’re supporting is key.

    • learningsnippets

      January 15, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Hey Tanya, happy 2014 to you too!
      Thanks for your comments. I was thinking of my previous post when I wrote this one and you are right, we tend to design for outputs.
      The project that the OD team is working on sounds very interesting. I’d keen to hear more about it and how you adapt their framework and tools to elearning evaluation. Developing closer relationships with the businesses you’re supporting – You’ve hit the nail on the head there Tanya and is another area that I’m going to improve on this year.

  2. Nick

    January 15, 2014 at 12:27 am

    I love what you’re saying here Matt and I’ll always make a conscious effort to put outcomes before output.

    Sometimes the outcome can’t always easily be pulled out of the results, especially in social, but it’s there and definitely needs to be promoted. Any win, no matter how small, needs to be promoted significantly when it comes to outcomes.

    • learningsnippets

      January 15, 2014 at 8:59 am

      Thanks Nick, yes you’re right outcomes aren’t easy to measure and as I mentioned in the post our team, including me, didn’t really even talk about outcomes during the year so I want to do things differently this year and try to give outcomes more of a focus.

  3. Andrew Gerkens

    January 28, 2014 at 1:50 am

    Thanks for your post Matt. I think you’re really capturing a key challenge for learning professionals. Most of what L&D has traditionally measured demonstrates that we have been ‘busy’ rather than ‘successful’.

    The key opportunity I can see is to define outcomes (and therefore what/how to measure) as part of our performance consulting process. Stakeholders will tell us the results or impact they expect to see – the ultimate outcomes of our work. Engaging them in the process lets us focus on what is important to them – they will tell us what we need to measure.

    Performance solutions are likely to have a number of elements (training being a small component), so once again, stakeholder engagement is critical. If a stakeholder tells you where they are now, the outcomes/impact they expect to see, and signs off on the performance solution, then we have a clear road map and a simple measurement framework. Stakeholders are unlikely to be worried about the detail of all the solution elements (outputs), other than being informed of progress, challenges, decision points etc.

    We have a legacy of measuring everything ‘just-in-case’ and as a means for justifying our work. Many of these measures are valuable, but should be used internally by the learning function to support continuous improvement, rather than as data for our stakeholders.

    • learningsnippets

      January 28, 2014 at 5:51 am

      Thanks for your comments Andrew. I particularly like how you said we tend to measure things that show we’ve been busy rather than successful.

      I definately agree that we need to undertake more performance consulting approach. For me personally, its an area that I know I need to improve but one that I’m very keen to become more skilled at. It’s a goal that I have for myself for this year, to improve my performance consulting conversations and break out of the traditional ‘training’ mindset.


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